Steven Spielberg’s skillful if stodgy 1997 feature, about the 1841 Supreme Court hearings that determined the fate of African slaves who’d broken free on a Spanish ship near Cuba, recalls some of the better Stanley Kramer productions of the 50s (even if the iconography of noble African males evokes certain Paul Robeson films). There’s some excellent comedy early on involving the mutual incomprehension of Africans and Americans, though this eventually gives way to solemn, ethnocentric mush about one African’s reading of the story of Jesus, demonstrating as usual that sustained subtlety is hardly Spielberg’s forte. The script is credited to David Franzoni, though other hands were involved; it seems to stick reasonably close to the historical record and doesn’t add any romantic subplots. With Anthony Hopkins (able if miscast as John Quincy Adams), Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, and Willie Amakye. 152 min. (JR)

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